Geetha recalls her journey to the frontline of Malayalam cinema, beginning with the cult classic Panchagni, and her continuing engagement with the industry.
On the set of her first Malayalam film, actor Geetha would often wonder why she was being asked to always wear a plain old Kerala sari. It was quite different from the colourful costumes she was used to in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu movies. One day she decided to voice her concerns to Hariharan, director of the movie. “Hariharan just smiled and told me that I would understand when I saw the film,” recalls Geetha.
The film was Panchagni (1986), which went on to become one of Malayalam cinema’s classics. “While I was acting in it, little did I imagine that Panchagni would change my life. When Hariharan came to my home in Chennai, I had told him that I would not be able to do the film straightaway as I had other commitments. But he was willing to wait,” says Geetha, in an interview with Friday Review, on the sidelines of shooting for Salala Mobiles in Kozhikode.
“In those days there was no satellite television and I knew very little about Malayalam cinema. I had only heard about Prem Nazir and Sathyan. I even had no idea who Hariharan or M.T. Vasudevanan Nair (who wrote the screenplay of Panchagni), was. And I didn’t know a single word of Malayalam then. But my colleagues, including Mohanlal, Thilakan and Nedumudi Venu, were all encouraging. In fact, Thilakan and Nedumudi had asked me not to accept any other Malayalam film until Panchagni is released; they told me that I would become a star with the film,” she reminisces.
Geetha did become a star in Malayalam cinema; her skilled and subtle portrayal of all the trauma and inner strength of the film’s protagonist Indira, garnered applause from all quarters. Indira remains one of Malayalam cinema’s landmark heroines. “Not many actresses would get such a dream debut,” she muses.
Films such as Sukhamo Devi, Kshamichu Ennoru Vaakku, Aavanazhi and Geetham all released in quick succession the same year, and pushed her into the frontline of Malayalam heroines.
Geetha proved that she was as much at ease as the sex worker in Aavanazhi as she was as the helpless spinster in Aadharam. She could move the viewer as the unfortunate mother Malini in Vaishali. She was in fine form in films such as Lal Salaam and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, for which she won the State award for the second best actress in 1989. She looked every inch as the Malayali homemaker in Valsalyam…
“I would have loved to be a Malayali. In fact, people often mistake me for a Malayali! It is Malayalam cinema that truly discovered the actress in me,” says Geetha.
She adds that she has learnt a lot from acting with stalwarts of Malayalam films. “It was a privilege working with actors such as Mammootty and Mohanlal. Malayalam cinema is lucky that its biggest superstars are also its greatest actors; you won’t see that anywhere else,” she says.
Geetha has done a lot of good work in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu too. “I have enjoyed working in Tamil films such as Thalapathi, Azhakan and Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal,” she says.
Although she has been based in the United States since 1997, following her marriage, she still finds time to act. “I come to India very often and recently shot for Zachariyayude Garbhinikal, in which I have an interesting role, and North 24 Kaatham. I play the role of Dulquer Salmaan’s mother in Salala Mobiles; I was paired with his father, Mammootty, in several films,” says Geetha, whose journey in tinsel town began in 1978 with the Tamil film Bhairavi.
“I was a student of class seven when director M. Bhaskar cast me. Rajnikanth was the hero. I did Telugu and Kannada films after that, but it was only after Panchagni that I began to be recognised as a serious actress. I was disappointed that I never won the Kerala State award for the best actress, but I have put that behind me and am looking forward to doing more good work in Malayalam,” she says.